In the second episode of the first season of The West Wing, Bartlet reveals his fears to his weekly doctor, Mandy gets a surprising offer, and Sam does a very, very foolish thing. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The West Wing.
I’m beginning to see the challenge I’ve been presented with now that I’ve been exposed to a couple episodes of this show: The West Wing is endlessly dense and complex. Both “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” and the pilot episode have three or four plots intertwined with one another. And while they unfold chronologically, the serpentine narrative is overwhelming to follow because so much information is being thrown at us through the dialogue. Obviously, that doesn’t make it bad or negative in and of itself, and I’m more than happy to approach a show with an open mind. Plus, I like doing things that are unlike other shows I’ve covered for Mark Watches. A big reason I chose this show and Friday Night Lights is because I wanted the chance to write about serialized dramas that had not a whiff of sci-fi or fantasy to them. It’s fun to change things up around here!
That also means I’m going to have to approach things differently. The West Wing, more than anything I’ve written about, doesn’t have the same style when it comes to linear plots as most other shows I cover, so bear with me as I try to figure this out and how to best address each episode.
The Vice President
I didn’t even realize I hadn’t met the Vice President until he was brought up in one of the press briefings. While his plot initially concerns C.J. and how she reacts to the accusation that the Vice President’s recent statement about the AC-C3 was “strained.” It’s a way of showing how a single line uttered by someone in our government can be the source of media scrutiny when, in reality, it might not mean anything at all. While it ultimately is a significant deal, I read this (and Bartlet’s golf joke plot) as further commentary about how the media is complicit in the political circus that sometimes dominates each news cycle. Again, that doesn’t mean that Bartlet’s joke wasn’t unnecessary or offensive, but we get the perspective of the White House staff as they react to the drama. People have very serious and angry conversations about a joke! It’s a big deal! SOMEONE CALL SOMEONE IMPORTANT!
I jest. See, when C.J. actually locates Vice President Hoynes, we see that the man is horrifically dismissive of her. Despite that, C.J. then spends the rest of the day covering for the very person who wouldn’t even give her the time of the day. It’s only when Leo confronts Hoynes that I come to understand a couple things:
1) There is some weird conflict between Leo and Hoynes that I don’t understand.
2) LEO IS REALLY TERRIFYING WHEN HE WANTS TO BE.
No, seriously, I would never want to cross Leo ever. Also, I am right in thinking that Leo and Hoynes have a history, right? Don’t tell me, obviously, but there’s something thereâ€¦ I think?
I like Mandy. (Though I think I like her business partner just a little more.) She is ridiculous, and it appeals to me. She drives her BMW up onto the sidewalk just to yell at Lloyd Russell! She is unapologetic about her anger! She values her own self-worth! And I can already tell that I’m going to enjoy her making Josh feel silly. It’s entertaining.
I wasn’t all that surprised that Mandy was eventually chosen to be the New Media Director once it was clear that Josh needed someone to help him at the White House. The episode pretty much pointed in that direction, so I’m more interested in how this is going to work. I give Mandy a single episode before she breaks every single one of Josh’s rules.
SAM, STOP. SAM. STOP.
Sam. Sam. I want to like you, but your behavior in this episode is not okay. I kept expecting Toby to suddenly jump out of the bushes and rap him on the head with a rolled up newspaper.
What the hell can I say about Sam? As he confides first in Josh and then to Toby that he slept with a call girl (loved the miscommunication over the word “accidentally”), it’s clear that Sam has this horribly misguided sense of needing to save Laurie. Oh god, like, I know sex workers, and there is a wealth of information about this online, and seriously, this is a thing guys do. They believe they can “save” people from sex work, as if this is what these people have needed their whole lives. And I was super stoked that Laurie spelled this out to him: She liked what she did. That’s something that’s often left out of conversations about sex work! Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t people forced into sex work, either, and we all have to be careful to be nuanced and inclusive when we talk about this. But everything that Sam does here â€“ call Laurie obsessively, follow her to the hotel bar where he first met her, interrupt and humiliate her while she is working â€“ is HORRIBLY CREEPY! It’s stalker behavior, y’all! And while I’ll respect Laurie’s choice to see who she wants to see, did anyone else think her about-face to Sam rung a littleâ€¦weird? Like, she’s clearly upset that this guy can’t even respect her job, let alone her own privacy and personal space, and uses this to try and get her to hang out with him. UM NO? And then all of a sudden, it’s a romantic thing? It’s the one part of this plot that was super jarring to me. I’ll refrain from commenting more on this until I see how it unfolds, but I felt a little strange about this development.
But “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc” really shines because of President Bartlet and Captain Morris Tolliver. This is my first chance to really experience who Bartlet is, and I admit I like him. He is charming in his own way, and I enjoyed that he was this combination of humor and deadly seriousness. As witty as Sorkin’s writing can be at times, he’s perhaps the one character here who sounds perfectly at home with every word that comes out of his mouth. (Though I suppose that speaks to how Sorkin views himself more than anything.)
So when Morris finds out that the President likes him a lot as the resident medical examiner, I was hoping that I’d get to find out why. Their scene together in the Oval Office is brilliant, both as a way to demonstrate the rapport these two have with one another and to humanize Bartlet. I could tell that Bartlet felt close to Morris, that he felt comfortable enough with him that he knew he could open up about things he probably doesn’t speak of with the rest of his staff. That’s understandable the second Morris begins to offer his advice. Morris doesn’t treat the President as if he is only that position. These are two men who work within a system full of rules and expectations, so they respect what the other has to do. Morris knows that the President has to navigate the politics of the Joint Chiefs of Staff even though he doesn’t necessarily agree with their penchant for violence, so he advises Bartlet to give them time. Respect can’t be given freely and immediately. It must be earned.
It’s these words that will surely haunt President Bartlet come the next episode. After enjoying the dynamic that Barltet and Morris had, I was completely and totally heartbroken by the twist at the end of “Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc.” It seems the President will have to spend more time with the Joint Chiefs in the immediate future because Morris’s plane was shot down by the Syrian military. They’re all dead. And seeing the emotion fall onto Bartlet’s face scared me. I believe him when he says that he’s not afraid, but I am. Will Bartlet let his personal fondness for Morris Tolliver get in the way of his dislike for violence against other nations? Or will we see a President eager for revenge?
Lord, THIS IS THE SECOND EPISODE. COULDN’T YOU WAIT TO DESTROY ME?
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